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Parks & The Art of Mowing

September’s clearing of vegetation by the Parks Department along Lake Washington Boulevard through Frink and Leschi Parks was a mixed bag.

The Park Department’s clearing of blackberries along Lake Washington Boulevard has had mixed results. The Department does not allow volunteers to do roadside maintenance due to liability concerns, so that now roadside maintenance is the responsibility of the Department.

The work of the hired contractor whose crew cut back invasive blackberries in most of the newly cleared areas was excellent. The sightline for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists going south and approaching the stop sign at Frink Place South/South Jackson Street is much improved. It is more evident that the natural slope of the hill is a limiting factor for the view ahead.

Work by hand is the best practice for landscape care. By cutting the blackberries and dabbing the cut stubs with herbicide, the blackberries will be severely discouraged and the underlying native plants will have a better chance of thriving.

However, Parks also sent out a mowing machine for the part of the work on the western edge of the Boulevard at the north end of Leschi Park. By slashing through the vegetation, the mower destroyed or seriously injured native plants that were installed by volunteers and were mixed with blackberries. The native plants were installed in order to discourage people from parking along the road edges and to beautify the park. Instead, with the mowing, there is parking for at least six vehicles.

The mowing is actually a double whammy. Not only are the new native plants damaged, but for years, nearby neighbors have been affected by nighttime use of the parking lot next to the tennis courts. Now, people can park along the Boulevard at night.

The mowing is in direct conflict with the Olmsted prescription for roadside planting in natural areas and in direct conflict with the Frink/Upper Leschi Plan that was an effort of the Leschi Community Council collaborating with the Park Department in 1998 to 2000.

The current mowing is much the result of the current Park Department maintenance policy to use citizen complaints as the basis for much of the official maintenance work. The resulting clash of opinions: the stewards of Frink Park and support from the Leschi Greenspace Committee of LCC were on one side. Complaining neighbors were on the other. Parks took the political way and listened to the loudest and hence, we had the destructive mowing. To his credit, Darrell Howe, Frink Park Steward, successfully negotiated to secure the work of the natural area’s contractor for the cutting of blackberries by hand in most of the affected area.

Over all this, the Park Department’s representatives tell us that the Department does not have funds to replant the cleared areas or to install bollards that would discourage parking. We may be in for more roadside mowing in the future years, instead of landscape edges.

John’s concern about this pattern of mowing and whacking was expressed in a letter to the Olmsted Legacy group: